How making British industry digital could boost the economy by billions and create thousands of new jobs

 
Lynsey Barber
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Plans to digitise industry could form the basis of a Brexit sector deal (Source: Getty)

New plans for making the UK a global leader in high-tech manufacturing have been put forward in a bid to boost the economy by more than £450bn and create nearly 200,000 jobs over the next decade.

And the proposals could even form the basis for a sector deal after Brexit.

A dozen digital innovation hubs and a new national innovation scheme should be created, while five digital research centres focussed on cutting edge technology such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the Internet of Things should be set up too.

And industrial digital technologies should be included in the R&D Tax Credit scheme, while the British Business Bank should look at new ways fo financing these kind of projects to boost investment by 20 per cent.

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The suggestions form part of an independent review by the boss of Siemens, Juergen Maier, who was tasked by the government with looking at how digital technology can pull traditional industries into the modern age as part of Theresa May's modern industrial strategy.

"Industry is committed to working in partnership with government, and this combined package of measures will boost UK growth and productivity in manufacturing and provide more exports and increased earning potential, which our economy desperately needs," said Maier.

He said the plans would "help business understand, deploy and create the latest digital technologies, helping to secure more homegrown R&D and the creation of new industries and highly skilled well paid jobs".

Several measures have been suggested for up-skilling and re-skilling one million industrial workers over the next five years, including the creation of a digital skills platform and identifying those most at risk of losing their job to automation.

A campaign to promote the adoption of digital technology should be embarked upon, to "address negative preconceptions that [it] is expensive and risky".

And the efforts, which could grow the manufacturing sector by three per cent a year and reduce carbon emissions by 4.5 per cent it's estimated, would be overseen and driven by a new group gathering together business, government, academia and others and called the Made Smarter UK Commission (MSUK).

“The UK manufacturing sector has the potential to be a global leader in the industrial digital technology revolution," said business secretary Greg Clark.

Read more: The 10 digital jobs employers say will become more important

"Government and industry must work together to seize the opportunities that exist in this sector and promote the benefits of adopting emerging digital technologies, as well as cutting edge business models.

"I look forward to working closely with industry to secure an industrial digitalisation sector deal,” he added.

The government was urged to adopt the recommendations by the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI). "The UK must compete with China, the USA and much of Europe where there are already advanced plans to embrace the fourth industrial revolution," said director general Carolyn Fairbairn.

"I urge the government to consider these plans carefully, as they are focused on increasing productivity and wages, especially in smaller businesses,” she added.

And Adrian Gregory, the boss of Atos in the UK and Ireland who was also involved in the review, said up-skilling would "build on the UK’s existing strengths in the technology sector while encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs to develop the products that will help deliver future revolutions in industry".

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